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Cat Breathing With Mouth Open

Have you ever seen your cat breathe with thier mouth open? Is this normal behavior? We get into the details and reasons why cats breathe with open mouths, if this is normal, and what owners should know.

Danielle DeGroot

Last Updated: April 13, 2023 | 9 min read

grey cat face up close breathing with mouth open

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Cat owners often wonder about their pet’s behavior. Felines are notorious for odd behaviors and actions. Kitties often leave owners scratching their heads and wondering if this behavior is normal. Some behaviors like rubbing up against people, trying to get outside, kneading, or being obsessed with feet are relatively common, while others are not. One less common behavior is a cat breathing with their mouth open.

Owners must remember that our pets communicate with us primarily through their behavior and body language. Because they cannot use words as we do, they give us clues through their behavior. A cat breathing with an open mouth is definitely something owners need to pay attention to.

Felines typically do most of their respiration through their noses. So, whenever an owner sees their cat breathing with their mouth open, they must pay attention, evaluate what is happening around their pet, and ensure that everything is okay. While there are a few reasons felines may be breathing with an open mouth. Some are not worrisome, but others may indicate something else is going on. We discuss the different reasons cats mouth-breathe and what owners should do.

Cat Breathing With Mouth Open

Felines are primarily nasal breathers, inhaling and exhaling through their noses. A healthy cat without heart disease has a respiratory rate typically between 15 to 30 breaths per minute. Their inhalation and exhalation should be quiet and effortless. They can breathe through their mouths, but this is not something a healthy animal typically does. Owners must pay attention to the circumstances and physical activity their cats engage in when they notice a purr-baby breathing with an open mouth.

Cat Breathing Heavily With Open Mouth

Cats drawing breath in and out heavily with an open mouth is also called “cat panting.” Though panting is more commonly associated with dogs, it is something felines also do, just not as often. Owners should pay very close attention whenever they notice their kitties panting.

It is also important to note that kitties may have occasional bouts of panting, which is a normal response to heat or stress. If your kitty is panting excessively or for no apparent reason, this can indicate an underlying health condition.

Top 7 Reasons Why Cats Breathe With Mouths Open

Dyspnea is the medical term used to describe a feline that is having a hard time breathing. This can present as open-mouth respiration, wheezing, or labored respiration. There are several possible causes of feline dyspnea, including respiratory infections, heart disease, and lung disease.

After Physical Exercise

Cats are very active and love to play. They spend their days exploring, climbing, hiding, and engaging in vigorous physical exercise. Like us, this can cause them to breathe heavily with their mouths open. Panting due to physical activity should only last a short time, as felines work to get more oxygen and cool down. Owners must determine if a purr baby is simply physically exerted or if they are struggling to catch their breath. Panting from exertion should subside after about 5 to 15 minutes.

Heat Or Humidity

A kitty that is overheated or in an overly humid environment may mouth-breathe to cool off. This is a way they can regulate their body temperature.

Stress & Anxiety

Kitties experiencing high stress and anxiety can start to breathe with their mouths open. This is often the cat’s response to something that has triggered them. A significant change, a trip in the car, a new pet, moving, new food, or even minimal changes can stress kitties out. When felines feel stressed, their heart rate and respiration rate increase, a natural reaction when they feel threatened or alarmed.

Injury Or Throat Obstruction

Cats love to chew on things and try to eat things they should not. They always try to sneak some of our food but also seek out things like string, cords, plastic, blankets, hair ties, and more. If something gets stuck in the mouth or lodged in the throat, it can cause them to open-mouth breathe.

Respiratory Distress

A kitty drawing breath in heavily with an open mouth might be experiencing respiratory distress. This will be different from panting or stress. Felines in respiratory distress often leave their mouth open, breathe heavily, make loud noises, and make visible, jerking chest movements. This is likely respiratory distress. If you believe your kitty is experiencing respiratory distress, it’s best to seek medical attention immediately. Various medical conditions can cause this, including injury, pneumonia, asthma, heart issues, hyperthyroidism, and more.

Feline Asthma

Feline asthma is a condition that can affect both kittens and adult felines. Asthma is a disease that affects the lungs and lower airways. The Cornell Feline Health Center estimates that asthma affects between 1 and 5% of cats. Asthma is caused by inhaled allergens that cause an allergic reaction. This constricts the airway, becomes inflamed and swollen, and causes a mucus build-up, making breathing difficult. Felines with asthma may experience open-mouthed breathing, wheezing, rapid breaths, coughing, and even vomiting.

Most cats with asthma are diagnosed between four and five years old, but it can be present in younger kittens, even those just a few months old. Himalayan and Siamese breeds and mixes are more likely to have asthma. There is no cure, but there are treatments that include corticosteroids or bronchodilators.

Disease & Health Conditions

A number of other diseases and health conditions can cause cats to breathe with an open mouth. These include upper respiratory infections, a feline cold, heart disease, and cancer.

Feline Cold & Upper Respiratory Infections

A kitty that is breathing with their mouth open and sneezing may be experiencing an upper respiratory infection or cold. Cats, just like humans, can catch the common cold virus. They will experience nasal congestion, stuffiness, and discomfort. Monitor eye and nose discharge, sneezing, coughing, congestion, dehydration, refusal to eat, fever, and low energy. Your pet might need treatment with an antibiotic to clear up an infection.

Heartworm

Heartworm is an infection caused by a worm parasite, Dirofilaria immitis, carried and transmitted by mosquitoes. It can affect both indoor and outdoor kitties. Often, kitties show no signs or only display mild indications of something going wrong. This can include weight loss, as well as trouble breathing or coughing. Labored, open-mouth panting that does not go away could indicate heartworm. It’s always best to get your pet examined if you are concerned about their breathing.

Heart Disease

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCIM) is the most prevalent form of heart disease found in cats. This condition causes the thickening of the heart muscle, called cardiac hypertrophy. This makes it harder for the heart to pump blood throughout the chambers and the body. Both Maine Coons and Ragdolls carry a genetic mutation for this disease. Other breeds like Persians, Norwegian Forest Cats, Cornish Rex, Devon Rex, and the Sphynx also are predisposed to this condition, though it can affect any breed or mix.

Cats can also develop congestive heart failure and pulmonary edema, an abnormal fluid buildup in their lungs. Panting that doesn’t go away, labored breaths, weakness, lethargy, difficulty moving hind legs, heart murmurs, and decreased activity are all indications of heart disease. It is best to have your pet checked out immediately if you notice any of these signs, along with inhaling and exhaling with their mouths wide for an extended time. Sometimes, heart disease and congestive heart failure come on suddenly with no apparent signs or symptoms.

Lung Disease

Conditions like lung cancer may also affect respiration. Cancer may cause cats to breathe with their mouths wide and likely also have pain. You may see decreased appetite, weight loss, fever, and low energy levels. Hydrothorax can also cause open-mouth and labored respiration. This occurs when fluid builds up around and in the lungs.

Anemia

Anemia is a condition in which there is a deficiency of red blood cells and hemoglobin in the blood. Hemoglobin is an iron-containing protein, and a decrease in this leads to a lower oxygen flow throughout the body’s organs. This can lead to organ damage and even organ failure. Rapid breaths, difficulty getting air, and panting are all symptoms of anemia.

Anemia itself is not a disease but is something that develops after other diseases or conditions damage the body. Trauma, injury, stomach ulcers, infection, disease, cancer, hookworm, fleas, ticks, and more can trigger anemia. Anemic felines may also have pale gums, lethargy, an increased heart rate, lower appetite, and overall weakness. Your vet will need to run tests to determine the cause of the anemia and then develop a treatment plan.

Poisoning

Cats are known for their curiosity and often get into things they should not. This can include chemicals, many of which are poisonous to felines. Rat poison, ant poison, bug killer, and other commonly used indoor and outdoor chemicals pose a risk. An animal that has been poisoned may likely experience respiratory distress, so it is crucial for owners to pay attention to the surroundings and what is going on when their cat starts having trouble.

Seizures

Felines can experience seizures, also called convulsions, for a few different reasons. Epilepsy is a term used when a cat has repeated seizure episodes. Some forms of epilepsy are inherited, and others are not. In some cases, cats who experience seizures may open-mouth breathing before, during, or for a short period after they experience a seizure.

Cat Breathing With Mouth Open & Sneezing

This is likely a sign your cat has a cold or respiratory infection. A kitty occasionally sneezing or panting may not be a cause for concern. Still, if felines do these together, and it is more than an isolated incident, there may be an underlying medical cause. If you notice this, as well as other symptoms like eye discharge, nasal discharge, fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, coughing, or restlessness, you will want to call the vet.

When Do I Need To Go To The Vet?

Cat at the vet

Owners must observe what happens in the home and around their cat when open-mouth breathing occurs. If your purr baby always seems to be panting, scheduling a consultation and exam with your veterinarian is best. Anytime your pet appears to be in respiratory distress, is experiencing shortness of breath, struggling to breathe, excessively coughing, has rapid and short breaths, or experiencing other signs and symptoms, it is best to seek emergency care.

Felines in respiratory distress often have blue paws and may experience panting with a pumping-like chest action. Breathing with their mouth agape all the time is not normal behavior. It is always best to err on the side of safety, so if you notice this in your pet, set up an exam as soon as possible.

If your kitty is panting with their mouth wide, you can do a few things to help them feel more comfortable. First, ensure your purr baby can always access clean, fresh water. This will help keep them hydrated and may also help to moisten their airways.

Consider using a humidifier in your home to help keep the air moist. Additionally, ensure your purr baby has a cool, comfortable place to rest where they can escape the heat.

Kitties needing medical attention for respiratory problems will likely require treatment, including corticosteroids, bronchodilators, antibiotics, oxygen therapy, and other medications. If your cat is on medication or treatment for a respiratory issue or disease, you must always follow your vet’s instructions and ensure your kitty takes all the medicine.

Prevention Of Open Mouth Breathing In Cats

While there is no foolproof way to prevent panting in felines, you can do a few things to help reduce the risk. For example, keep your cat indoors to help reduce exposure to respiratory infections and other outdoor hazards like disease and poison.

Observing when your cat is panting is essential. If this is something that happens only occasionally after a specific activity, or is this something that happens more regularly? This is important to determine. It is time to contact the vet if it happens more often.

You should also ensure your kitty is up to date on their vaccinations and receives regular veterinary check-ups. This can help detect any underlying health conditions early before they become more serious. Even pets that seem otherwise healthy need regular veterinary checkups at least once or twice a year. Recording your pet when having a rough or troubled respiratory episode will better help your vet determine the cause. This is an excellent method to employ, as cats often do not exhibit troublesome behavior on cue at the vet’s office.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is my cat breathing heavily with her mouth open?

A kitty panting heavily with a wide mouth is either overly exerted, overheated, or possibly struggling to breathe. Make sure to examine your pet, investigate what is happening around them, and their activity before the heavy respiration. If you have concerns about respiratory distress, it is always better to call your veterinarian for advice than to wait and see what happens.

How can you tell if a cat is struggling to breathe?

A kitty struggling to breathe can experience panting, audible inhalations, and exhalations. Respiration may sound raspy or congested, and they might start to breathe very fast, short breaths. Some may even hyperventilate. Felines experiencing respiratory distress often have a heaving abdomen as they breathe, and their gums will look blueish-gray instead of pink. Their tongue might also have a blue to purple hue.

What does cat mouth-breathing sound like?

The noise can be anything from an audible whisper, to a wheeze, to a snoring-like sound. Some kitties make whistling, rasping, or squeaking noises. Essentially, this describes when your cat inhales and exhales loud enough for you to hear.

Final Thoughts

Cats breathing with their mouths open is not the normal way they generally breathe. Some cats may open-mouth breathe if they overheat or have just finished a vigorous play session. Usually, this type of respiration will dissipate after a few minutes. Other more severe conditions may lead a cat to open-mouth breathing. It is essential that owners observe their pets when they are exhibiting this behavior and what is happening around them. If you have any concerns about your cat’s ability to breathe correctly or worry they are experiencing respiratory distress, always contact your veterinarian for prompt advice and treatment.

A human hand holding a cat's head examining teeth

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